It’s no surprise to anyone that the health and fitness world is one with LOTS of noise. The problems in this industry range far and wide, from old science and just BAD information, to assaulting you with you with “shoulds” every minute of every day, to preying on your own insecurities to make you feel guilty or ashamed of your body or your lifestyle. As such, there’s A LOT of things I could rant on here (and I tend to address some of these points in most of my posts here on this blog), but today I wanted to focus on the following four, as these misconceptions can leave us feeling broken, hungry, frustrated or, at worst, sick. And notably, all of these are coming from industry leaders.
Because even as most of us become more knowledgable, more confident, and more aware of the fitness and nutrition industry nonsense machine, a few messages still seem to be getting through that I wish my readers (and everyone!) would stop believing.
And of course, all of these could be their own post (or book!), so I’m touching on the most important points briefly. You ready? Here goes.
#1: EAT LESS, MOVE MORE
This one can be confusing, because not only is it age old advice that we’ve all heard in some capacity a million times over from doctors and nutritionists and magazines and even our coaches or trainers, but it CAN actually work for some people.
For some folks, all they need to do to change their health, body and life is to begin to move more, and mind what they're eating; usually dropping their daily caloric intake and going for a run. These people are usually severely overweight, untrained, sedentary, or otherwise totally new to their own health journey. As such, this advice can be impactful for this population, at least for some period of time.
However, if you have been training for a while, are a regular exerciser or a regular intense exerciser (hello, CrossFitters!), this strategy simply does not work. At some point, being on a severe caloric deficit actually begins to work AGAINST you, and if you’re trying to fix it by training even more and eating even less, you will not only feel it in the gym and in your overall energy levels, but you'll probably see it on your waistline too.
The path to a hard body, a healthy gut and a happy mind is paved with smart training and sufficient fuel. Not lettuce for dinner and 3 hours of cardio. In fact, spending hours on end at low or moderate intensity (jogging, etc) can also be working against you. Want to get lean and strong? Ditch the cardio and pick up the weights. And eat to support your training.
Eating more can be a scary thing for a lot of women, because the industry has told us it's wrong or bad. The best place to start to ensure you’re eating enough to support your muscle, fat loss efforts, energy levels and overall health and well being? Enough carbs and adequate protein. (And no, I don’t just mean 2 eggs for breakfast and a yogurt snack pack). This leads us into myth #2.
More reading on this topic:
#2: YOUR BODY CAN ONLY ABSORB 20-30G OF PROTEIN PER SITTING
Years and years ago, there used to be a concept swirling around in the nutrition world that said that a human body can only absorb 20-30g of protein in one sitting, and all protein consumed beyond this point would either go to waste or be stored as fat. These days, this is widely understood to be a myth (any quick Google could tell you that— this topic is WELL researched, with many definitive studies), but yet I STILL see it being perpetuated in some circles. This can be especially misleading and confusing for those who are trying their darnedest to up their protein intake and properly address myth #1. You're eating too much, you need to eat more. You need more protein, you're eating too much protein.. So, let’s talk.
First of all we need to remember that protein does a hell of a lot more than just support our gainz. Studies have shown that 20-30g of protein seems to be the amount that tends to be used towards protein synthesis, or muscle repair and building, and about how much we absorb at any given time. But just because we don't absorb it ALL AT ONCE doesn't mean it doesn't eventually get absorbed and used! Our body’s use for protein does not begin and end with muscle building. And most studies on this topic have shown that upward of 90% of the protein you eat, eventually gets absorbed and gets put to good use in one way or another.
(But on the topic of muscle building, studies on intermittent fasting and protein consumption have shown that consuming an entire day’s worth of protein in a short window did not negatively impact muscle retention and growth, which further shows us that protein absorption was not hindered by high intake all at once).
And evolutionarily speaking, how could that really make sense? When our primal ancestors hunted and feasted on a rare animal protein, do you think their bodies simply stopped absorbing more than a neat little 3 oz serving at one time? Um, no. As Mark Sisson puts it, "Digestion takes a long time, and it’s not a segmented procession of different meals through the gastrointestinal tract. Food isn’t separated into 'meals' in your stomach. It’s just all food, all mashed together. If you still have breakfast in your stomach when your lunch enters the picture, lunch and breakfast will meet and mingle."
Now, I will say there's a variability element to consider here. For example, a petite, 5’ 2” 100 pound sedentary woman might not absorb and utilize the exact same amount as a 250 lb, 6’ 4” strongman competitor or linebacker, because your body will absorb and use what it NEEDS— it doesn’t just stop at some arbitrary number or "meal". (And how much do you really need? That's a huge source of confusion, too. But no. it's NOT the RDA, and no, you're not getting enough. Read this & the links below).
Other factors, like your protein sources and your body’s levels of micronutrients like zinc (along with anti-nutrients like lectin and phytate) also play a role in absorption. And wild excess CAN start to work against some bodies at some point, just like anything else (we’re talking WILD excess though).
The research and science is clear here. So can we put this myth to rest already? Your body will use ANY amount of protein you feed it in a sitting, somehow, someway, so always be sure you're getting enough.
Read more on this topic:
#3: PLANT BASED IS THE HEALTHIEST DIET
So I do want to preface this section with this: I am a firm supporter of the Do You Boo system. Meaning, if plant based makes you feel fucking radiant, then do it. I also realize that some people choose this eating style for a variety of reasons, like simple taste or texture preference, and I understand that. This is mostly for those who feel like they NEED to be plant based in order to be healthier.
If you are opting to go without any animal products (or animal protein) simply based on the claim that this is the superior diet for ultimate health, I encourage you do some more reading on this topic.
(And there’s no denying the health benefits of plants here— I’m NOT suggesting you stop eating veggies! We must make sure we are getting adequate greens and micronutrients in a large variety and volume on a daily basis for our health, period. But if we stop there, we are coming up short.)
Because there's SO MUCH to unpack in this topic, and the rabbit holes run DEEP down every single argument to this claim, I decided to just offer some extra reading for you here, if you're interested. Again, do what makes YOU feel BEST.
But I do want to say this, as it builds off out last 2 myths: If you are attempting to sustain yourself on solely plant based protein sources, man alive have you got your work cut out for you. Adding hemp seeds to your salad just isn’t going to cut it. If getting TRUE adequate protein while eating chicken breast and steak is a lot of work, can you image how hard it is to get there with seeds and grains alone? (Which, btw, aren't protein sources, they are fat and carb sources, respectively, with a little protein).
And while there are some legit plant based protein sources, most of the popular ones actually work against internal health: namely things like soy, grains and legumes.
There is no one diet that is perfect for everyone and I encourage you to experiment with everything to find what works for you, but if you're feeling pressure and think "plant based is the only route to health", you need to know that this concept is simply false.
Read more on this topic:
Also see: any book from my favorites shop
#4: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. WHAT'S A "REST DAY"?
Lastly, we have another popular belief that drives me crazy to see, especially as a coach! Closely related to the first myth, "move more, eat less", this idea that you have to push your body to it’s absolute limits to either see results, be healthy or fit, or that rest days are for the weak, is not only misleading and wrong, but downright dangerous.
More is NOT better. The concept of “minimal effective dose” is an important one to keep in mind when it comes to intense exercise. Meaning, while movement and pushing your limits is great for your body and mind and health, it can absolutely be taken too far. Getting in the minimum effective dose (one that brings you fitness and health and mental clarity and makes you better) is essential, but taking it beyond that starts to erode a few very important systems-- and ultimately, your health.
Because at the end of the day, what your body sees this as, is STRESS. Your body doesn’t know the difference between stress from work, from that fight with your partner, from that one rep max back squat, from that epic to do list, and that half marathon you ran last weekend. It all gets processed the same.
This doesn’t just make us feel tired-- it actually sets off a “cascade of biochemical responses that can cause serious damage to one’s health in both the short and long term”, as Chris Kresser puts it.
This idea of bragging about “no rest days” or pushing our bodies so hard we get ill makes me CRINGE. It is not cool, not “hard core” or disciplined or impressive, and most certainly not a healthy relationship to exercise. If you are feeling like you are addicted to your training (or stimulus); if you struggle to take a rest day; if you're training like a pro but you're not a pro; if the thought of going a week or 2 months without your exercise of choice sends you into a panic; then you really need to take a long, hard look here.
Movement is so important to health, and I believe firmly in the benefits of a tough, physical challenge and regular exercise. But there's a fine line between training hard and overtraining, or even exercise addiction. How many rest days are you taking and how often (not "active recovery"). How much and how well are you sleeping? Are you allowing for quieter seasons or pushing hard 24/7?
It's important to know the distinction between pushing hard and muscle burn/fatigue, vs a real injury or pushing too far to stay safe and illness/injury free. And you must be recovering JUST as hard as you're training if you intend to see any lasting results from your hard work.
And it's always a good idea to take an honest look at our relationship to exercise, and ask ourselves if it's truly serving us with how we are using it.
More reading on this topic:
TO SUM UP:
Ditch the hamster wheel and pick up some weights. Eat! Be sure you're getting enough fuel to support your training and build strong bones and lean muscles, especially protein. And yes your body will absorb and use it all, so don't skimp. Don’t be pressured into thinking that plant based is superior to omnivorous diets-- while it's not for everyone, eating high quality animal products and protein IS part of a healthy diet. Train with intensity, not intense volume, and be sure it’s fun. Four hours of cardio every day is not effective and likely woking against you in myriad ways. Rest and recovery is JUST as important as your exercise, and should come at a 1:1 ratio. And, don't fear the slower seasons. More isn't better. Better is better.
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